The M5 is a unique motorway. Unlike its other single-digit friends 1-6 it doesn't radiate from London and its purpose is not just to connect major industrial areas. For half the year, large parts of it are over-capacity. The reason it exists (besides the everyday, humdrum job of connecting the places along its length) is to carry holiday traffic headed for the south west - Devon and Cornwall. This is the road to the seaside.

It picks up traffic from the north west first (M6), then the east Midlands and north east (M42), then south east (M4), and carries it all south west. Then, at Exeter, it gives up, distributing its traffic onto the A30 to Cornwall, the A38 to south Devon and the A380 to east Devon.

That's not to say that the M5 isn't a working motorway; far from it. The northern part of its route links Birmingham to Bristol, and along with the lengthy M50 spur, it links the industry and ports of Avonmouth and South Wales to the Midlands and the North. It's a busy road.

Initially the section between present-day M42 and M50 was just two lanes each way. When the rest was built on either side - all with three lanes - this part became a huge bottleneck. The widening works took years, moving on from one section to the next and making the already-chronic congestion noticeably worse. The resulting road is excellent, but it could have been avoided if the M5, like most other motorways at the time, had been built with three lanes each way from the outset - saving massive disruption and an awful lot of money.

Its problems extend further south, too; not long after the widening was done, the Avonmouth Bridge near Bristol became the trouble spot and for almost a decade contractors worked to widen it to four lanes each way. The section around Bristol remains the most problematic, with new climbing lanes recently added to alleviate traffic jams on its steep hills. With no other reasonable way past the city, it is likely to remain a headache for holiday traffic for some time to come.

Start
Birmingham
End
Exeter
Passes
West Bromwich, Bromsgrove, Worcester, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Bristol, Weston-Super-Mare, Bridgwater, Taunton
Length
166 miles
Open Junctions Section
Jul 1962 J4-8 Lydiate Ash → Strensham
Nov 1965 J3-4 Quinton → Lydiate Ash
Mar 1969 J15-18 Filton → Avonmouth
Feb 1970 J8-9 Strensham → Tewkesbury
Apr 1970 J19-20 Gordano Valley
May 1970 J1-3 M6 → Quinton
Mar 1971 J9-13 Tewkesbury → Moreton Valence
Dec 1971 J13-15 Moreton Valence → Filton
Jan 1973 J20-22 Clevedon and Mendip Hills section
Aug 1973 J22-23 Highbridge Bypass
Dec 1973 J23-24 Bridgwater Bypass
Apr 1974 J25-26 Taunton Bypass
May 1974 J18-19 Avonmouth Bridge
Oct 1975 J27-30 Killerton and Sowton sections
Nov 1975 J24-25 North Petherton Bypass
Oct 1976 J26-27 Chelston → Willand
May 1977 J30-31 Exminster section

Exit list

Junction   Northbound               Southbound  
M6 J8
0.0 km
The NORTH WEST
Walsall
Wolverhampton
M6 Link
London
(M1 Link & M40 Link)
Birmingham (N & E)
M6 Link





M6
NORTH





M6
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
4 miles, 3 lanes 4 miles, 3 lanes
1
5.0 km
West Bromwich
Birmingham (NW)
A41
A41 A41

A4252
West Bromwich
Sandwell
Birmingham (NW)
A41
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
2 miles, 3 lanes 2 miles, 3 lanes
2
9.0 km
Dudley
Wolverhampton
Sandwell
A4123
(A4123) Birmingham (W)
Dudley
A4123
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
3 miles, 3 lanes 3 miles, 3 lanes
3
14.0 km
Birmingham (W & C)
A456
A456 A456 Kidderminster
A456
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
2 miles, 3 lanes 2 miles, 3 lanes
16.3 km Services Frankley Services Frankley
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
4 miles, 3 lanes 4 miles, 3 lanes
4
20.3 km
Birmingham (SW)
A38
Stourbridge
A491
A491 A38


A38
Birmingham (SW)
Bromsgrove
A38
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
2 miles, 3 lanes 2 miles, 3 lanes
4A
26.4 km
The NORTH EAST (M1 Link)
London (M40 Link)
NEC & Airport
Redditch
M42 Link
M42 London
(M40 Link)
Birmingham (S & E)
Redditch
M42 Link
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
5 miles, 3 lanes 5 miles, 3 lanes
5
34.7 km
Droitwich
Bromsgrove
A38
A38 A38 Droitwich
A38
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
6 miles, 3 lanes 6 miles, 3 lanes
6
43.9 km
Worcester (N)
Kidderminster
A449
A4538

A449
A4538 Evesham
A4538
Worcester (N)
A449
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
3 miles, 3 lanes 3 miles, 3 lanes
7
48.9 km
Worcester (S)
Evesham
A44
(A44) B4084 Worcester (S)
Evesham
A44
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
8 miles, 3 lanes  
61.3 km Services Strensham
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
1 mile, 4 lanes 9 miles, 3 lanes
8
64.3 km
SOUTH WALES
Ross
M50 Link
M50 SOUTH WALES
Ross
M50 Link
Services Strensham
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
4 miles, 3 lanes 4 miles, 3 lanes
9
70.1 km
Tewkesbury
A438
Evesham
A46
A438 A46 Tewkesbury
A438
Evesham
A46
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
8 miles, 3 lanes 5 miles, 3 lanes
10
77.9 km
A4019 A4019 Cheltenham A4019
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
  3 miles, 3 lanes
11
82.5 km
Cheltenham
Gloucester
A40
A40 A40 Cheltenham
Gloucester
A40
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
3 miles, 3 lanes 3 miles, 3 lanes
11A
87 km
Gloucester
Cirencester
A417
A417 A417 Cirencester
London
A417
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
7 miles, 3 lanes 7 miles, 3 lanes
12
97 km
Gloucester
(A38)
(A38) B4008 Gloucester
(A38)
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
4 miles, 3 lanes 4 miles, 3 lanes
13
102 km
Stroud
A419
A419
(A38)
A419 Stroud
Dursley
A419
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
10 miles, 3 lanes 10 miles, 3 lanes
116 km Services Michaelwood Services Michaelwood
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
1 mile, 3 lanes 1 mile, 3 lanes
14
118.8 km
Dursley
B4509
B4509 B4509 Thornbury
B4509
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
7 miles, 3 lanes 7 miles, 3 lanes
15
131.1 km
London
Bristol (M32 Link)
SOUTH WALES
Chepstow (M48 Link)
M4 Link
M4
(M48)
M4
(M32)
London
Bristol (M32 Link)
SOUTH WALES
Chepstow (M48 Link)
M4 Link
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
1 mile, 2+2 lanes 1 mile, 2+2 lanes
16
131.6 km
Thornbury
Filton
A38
A38

A38

Filton
Thornbury
A38
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
2 miles, 3 lanes + HSR 2 miles, 3 lanes + HSR
17
136.0 km
Bristol (W)
A4018
Severn Beach
B4055
B4055

A4018
Bristol (W)
Clifton
A4018
Severn Beach
B4055
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
4 miles, 3 lanes 4 miles, 3 lanes
18/18A
141.3 km
Bristol & Airport
Shirehampton
Avonmouth & Docks
Aust (A403)
A4
SOUTH WALES
Cardiff
Newport
M49 Link (M4 W Link)
M49

A4
(A403)





B4054
A4
Avonmouth
Bristol (W) & Airport
A4
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
2 miles, 4 lanes  
143.2 km River or canal Avon River or canal Avon
  2 miles, 4 lanes
19
145.3 km
Clifton (Toll)
Portishead
Royal Portbury Dock
A369
Services Gordano


A369
A369 Portishead
Royal Portbury Dock
A369

Services Gordano
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
7 miles, 3 lanes 7 miles, 3 lanes
20
155.5 km
Clevedon
Nailsea
B3133
B3133 Clevedon
Nailsea
B3133
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
6 miles, 3 lanes 6 miles, 3 lanes
21
164.8 km
Weston-Super-Mare
Bristol (S)
A370
A370 A370 Weston-Super-Mare
A370
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
6 miles, 3 lanes 6 miles, 3 lanes
175.7 km Services Sedgemoor Services Sedgemoor
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
4 miles, 3 lanes 4 miles, 3 lanes
22
179.9 km
Weston-Super-Mare
Burnham-on-Sea
Bristol (S) & Airport
A38

(A38)
Highbridge
Burnham-on-Sea
A38
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
5 miles, 3 lanes 5 miles, 3 lanes
23
188 km
Highbridge
A38
Glastonbury
Wells
A39
(A38) A39 Bridgwater
A38
Glastonbury
Wells
A39
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
5 miles, 3 lanes 5 miles, 3 lanes
24
196 km
Bridgwater
Minehead
A38
Services Bridgwater
(A38)
Services
Minehead
A38 (A39)

Services Bridgwater
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
7 miles, 3 lanes 7 miles, 3 lanes
25
206.5 km
Taunton
Yeovil
A358
A358 A358 Taunton
Honiton
Yeovil
Weymouth
A358
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
5 miles, 3 lanes 5 miles, 3 lanes
214.5 km Services Taunton Deane Services Taunton Deane
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
2 miles, 3 lanes 2 miles, 3 lanes
26
217.5 km
Wellington
Taunton
A38
(A38) Wellington
A38
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
8 miles, 3 lanes 8 miles, 3 lanes
27
231 km
Barnstaple
Tiverton
A361
Wellington
A38
A361 A38
(B3181)
Tiverton
Barnstaple
A361
Willand
(B3181)
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
4 miles, 3 lanes 4 miles, 3 lanes
28
237.5 km
Cullompton
B3181

Services Collumpton
(B3181) A373 Honiton
A373
Cullompton
B3181
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
10 miles, 3 lanes 10 miles, 3 lanes
29
254.0 km
Honiton
A30
Exeter Airport
A3015
A3015 A30 Honiton
A30
Exeter Airport
A3015
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
1 mile, 4 lanes 1 mile, 4 lanes
30
256.0 km
Exeter
A379
Exmouth
A376
Sidmouth
(A3052)
Services Exeter


A379
A376
(A3052)
Dawlish
Exeter
A379
Sidmouth
Exmouth & Airport
A376
Services Exeter
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
4 miles, 3 lanes 3 miles, 3 lanes
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
  1 mile, 4 lanes
31
261.5 km
Taunton
Bristol
Honiton (A30)
M5
Exeter
Okehampton
Crediton (A377)
A30
A30







A38
SOUTH
Bodmin
Okehampton
A30
Torquay
(A380)
Plymouth
A38 Link
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
Routes

Picture credits

With thanks to Dan, Steve Gill, Chris Bertram, Duncan Childs, Paul Martin, Jim Cobb and Dunc for information on this page.